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St. James The Greater: Disciple, Apostle and Herald of the Good News of Salvation

by Russell Fleur Gallego

St. James the Greater in the Gospel

The name of St. James the Greater came the Hebrew name Yacob (יעקב) meaning “may the Lord protect”. This is also the name of one of the patriarchs of Israel, Jacob, the son of Isaac. In the Filipino language, he is often called as “Santiago” due to the large influence of the Spaniards in our language. In the Spanish language, the name of the Apostle has many forms: Jaime, Jacobo, Yague, Yago; Jaume and Jaumet in Catalan; Jakes in Basque and Iago in Gallego. However, because of the high respect of the Spaniards for the Apostle, the word “San” is often added to his name. Thus, he is called as “Sant (o) Iago” which is derived from the Latin “Santus Iacobus.”

There are three James that are mentioned in the Gospel: James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee and Salome, James the son of Alphaeus and James who is known for the being the “brother of Jesus”. The first two James are those who were chosen by Jesus to be his apostles. To differentiate the two, James the son of Zebedee is coined as “the greater” while James the son of Alphaeus is coined as “the lesser”. However, it does not mean that one is of lesser greatness that the other. It is often believed that they are called as such due to the chronological order that they have been called by Jesus and because James the Greater was the first apostle to be martyred.

James the son of Zebedee

James was born in Bethsaida, a village in the northeastern region of the Sea of Galilee, which also happens to be the same village of Peter, Andrew and Philip. He is the son of Zebedee and Salome, one of the women who was with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross in Calvary. James is the older brother of John. He was a fisherman. He was one of the first to be called by Jesus to be his apostle. He was with Peter and John when Jesus healed Peter’s mother – in – law. He was also there when Jesus raise the child of Jairus. He was also with Jesus during the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because of this, James is considered one of the closest friends of Jesus. But, even though he was one of the closest to Jesus, he was at times reprimanded by Jesus due to being hot headed. During one of the journey of Jesus, when the Samarians did not welcome them, he and John said to Jesus “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them.” But Jesus rebuked him. Because of this, they earned the title “boanerges” or the sons of thunder due to being imprudent. Like the other apostles, James hide when the Sanhedrin took Jesus and condemned Him to death through crucifixion. When Jesus resurrected, James was one of those who witnessed the Ascension. After the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles during Pentecost no other records of James is found in the Bible until the time that he was captured and beheaded by Herod of Agrippa. It is believed that James went to Spain to spread the Good News.

James and Our Lady of the Pillar

During the time that James was disheartened and had lost hope that the people will be converted and would receive the Good News of Salvation, which he was preaching, he has wanted to give up and go back to Jerusalem. On January 2, 40AD, while he and his disciples were praying, the Blessed Mother appeared to James while standing atop a pillar which is surrounded by angels (Our Lady of the Pillar). This is often regarded as the first apparition of the Blessed Mother, which also happens to be a bilocation since during that time the Blessed Mother was said to be in Jerusalem. Because of the apparition of the Blessed Mother, James had a renewed spirit and strength to continue his mission. The place where James met the Blessed Mother is where the Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragosa Spain is located.

The Death of James

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Herod of Agrippa persecuted Christians wherein he had them arrested and had James beheaded. According to experts of the Bible, it happened around 44AD.

Compostela: The Final Resting Place of James

It is believed that the disciples of James brought his body to Port of Jope (Joffa) wherein he was place on a boat without sail and rudder. The said boat reached the River of Flavia (now River Padrón, northwest of Galicia Spain). It was said that his body was covered with concha (a kind of a shell). When his followers recognized his body, they buried him in a sarcophagus in Iria Flavia, which is now called as Padrón.

The Iconography of St. James the Greater

James the Apostle

The iconography of James as an apostle is said to be the oldest image the saint. Here, James is wearing a long garb; in his hand, he is holding a book, which symbolizes the New Testament. Sometimes he is holding a chalice, which symbolizes his martyrdom.

James the Pilgrim

This iconography of James shows him wearing a cape or cloak with a shell and a hat with a shell in front. On his hand, he is holding a walking stick with a gourd, which serves as a container for water.

James the Caballero

Also called as a Matamoro (Moro slayer) depicts James as a warrior. It shows James wearing an armor with cape and he is riding a white horse. He is also holding a sword and a banner. This image commemorates the Battle in Clavijo wherein the Christians won against the Moro through the intercession of James.

Prayer to St. James the Greater

O Glorious St. James, because of your fervor and generosity, Jesus chose you to witness His glory on the mount and His agony in the garden. Obtain for us strength of this life. Help us to follow Christ constantly and generously, to be victorious over all our difficulties, and to receive the crown of glory in heaven. Amen.


Apostol Santiago Sa Mata ng Isang Peregrino

Rev. Fr. Francis Eugene A. Fadul SThL

c 2018

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